As the presidential election unfolds we make many presumptions about our candidates and their families. On September 28, 2008 my father, John S.D. Eisenhower, wrote a thought provoking piece in the New York Times, titled, “Presidential Children Don’t Belong in Battle.” He adds an historical perspective to a little discussed national security consideration.
Let me share a story, one that is tinged with regret. In the summer of 1952, when I was 30, the Army assigned me to an infantry unit fighting in Korea. Meanwhile, though, there was other news in my family: My father had become the Republican presidential nominee. As an ambitious young major, I refused any offers for other assignments. Avoiding combat duty was and is an unforgivable sin for a professional soldier.
As the time for my deployment approached, I discussed my intentions with my father. We met at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago, just after the Republican convention, and I explained my position. My father, as a professional officer himself, understood and accepted it. However, he had a firm condition: under no circumstances must I ever be captured. He would accept the risk of my being killed or wounded, but if the Chinese Communists or North Koreans ever took me prisoner, and threatened blackmail, he could be forced to resign the presidency. I agreed to that condition wholeheartedly. I would take my life before being captured.
On looking back through the years, however, I now feel that I was being unfair and selfish and that my father was being far too conciliatory in giving me such permission. On the other hand, I don’t think that the Army should ever have given me an option in the matter.
Today the problem is worse than it was in my time.